As he races to be Seattle’s mayor, Bruce Harrell is getting more creative.
We’ve already discussed here his idea to force all of Seattle’s police officers to watch the full George Floyd video — an idea that reminded me of the eyes-clamped-open scene in “Clockwork Orange.” I suggested the police might not appreciate the force. Nobody likes to be forced to do what they don’t want to do, right? Do you like it when someone yells at you, “Hands on the wall, legs back, spread them!”? Of course not. The police are just like you.
Bruce Harrell is now showing he gets that and he understands you can’t just apply the stick all the time. You need to apply the carrot.
Once police have been told that they aren’t supposed to kill people regularly anymore, he’s going to establish celebrations every day that no officer kills anyone, plus an extra big celebration on Friday if they can all get through a whole week of being good.
I’ve been trying to picture what a happy police celebration might look like. Are we talking cake and ice cream? Noise makers? Bourbon? Champagne? Will there be party games? Bobbing for apples? Piñatas? Bingo?
People love parties. That’s why they celebrate their birthdays. Nobody likes being a year older when their birthday comes back around, but they’ll celebrate it anyhow, because pizza. If it’s an excuse to eat pizza, I’ll allow it. “Woo-woo; I’m a year older; bring me my pizza!”
Hence the genius of Harrell’s idea: The goal is to use the culture to turn the culture.
The police can party themselves out every Friday just for not killing anyone? That’s a lot of positive reinforcement. If he’s elected mayor, I hope the behavioral psychologists at the U of W keep a close watch on all this. The world will need to know how this approach turns out. There should be graphs, citations and footnotes.
I do worry that the police might start to enjoy the Friday parties so much they’ll party every Friday, whether or not they meet the conditions allowing it. What would we do then? Take away their balloons? I hope I’m just overthinking this.
Harrell is also planning to point out the good police officers and deem them leaders. So instead of all of us focusing on the bad apples, there will be good apples lifted up. I think he should give out “good apple awards,” and the good apples should each get a frameable certificate and a shiny apple pin to wear at work. When you’re being arrested and you see that shiny good apple pin on your arresting officer’s uniform, you’ll be so relieved. “Thank goodness I got a good apple arresting me. I’m going to be alright. My wife won’t be a widow tomorrow.”
I’ve always noticed how nothing ever goes wrong when a minority of people are selected out of a population and identified as the leaders of that population without the population’s input. It always works out that the rest of the population follows their designated leaders, because they know instinctively that is their role. People always know when to acquiesce to their appointed superiors.
It may sound like I’m disapproving of Harrell’s approach, but that’s not so. I find it refreshing that someone isn’t just talking about changing the culture of the police rank and file but actually thinking about how cultural forces can be brought to bear to effect changes. It’s like, wow, sociology could be good for something, after all. When I took Soc 101, I never thought the definition of culture given would come in handy.
Broadly, there are two ways to approach changing cultures. One involves such measures as re-education camps, or worse. The other is to work with the existing culture to let it evolve its own changes. I like that Bruce Harrell is thinking along the lines of the latter approach.
Marginalized people, including homeless people, have the saying, “Nothing about us without us.”
It’s amusing to think of Seattle police as a marginalized community, but maybe if they could see themselves that way, they would have more compassion for other marginalized communities. Maybe it would spark a little solidarity here and there, if the changes they need to make are encouraged from within and from people buying them pizza.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more in the Apr. 7-13, 2021 issue.